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Saturday, 3 October 2015

Reviews: Riverside, Amorphis, Ahab (Reviews By Paul)

Riverside: Love, Fear And The Time Machine (InsideOut)

In the numerous albums that we review here at Musipedia Towers during the course of the year, we regularly award a 9 or 10 out of 10 for outstanding releases. Believe it or not, we can struggle to find superlatives to describe the brilliance of the music we have experienced. In 2014 that was the challenge we faced with the breathtakingly brilliant release by Anathema, Distant Satellites; due to its quality, complexity and sheer beauty. In 2015 compiling a top ten for the year is already proving to be a challenge with a quarter of the year still to go; however, Love, Fear And The Time Machine by Polish progressive rockers Riverside is for me, 2015’s Anathema moment.

Combining a huge mix of influences, Love Fear And The Time Machine meshes together into some of the most perfect music I've ever heard. Opener Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened) mixes layers of hard rock with synth driven indie, Progressiveness ala Pink Floyd along with a generous serving of several seminal outfits (think Anathema, Opeth, Wishbone Ash for starters). Under The Pillow contains the edge which Steve Wilson manages to deliver so effortlessly with undertones of the late 80s synthesiser work of OMD, Depeche Mode et al. Complex, creative and delicate, Riverside, Mariusz Duda (vocals, bass and acoustic guitars), Piotr Grudzinski (Guitars), Piotr Kozieradzki (Drums and percussion) and Michael Kapaj (Keyboards and backing vocals) have made an absolute masterpiece which elevates the band even higher than their excellent 2013 release Shrine Of New Generation Slaves.

As well as the progressive elements which wash throughout this album, the indie and late 80s influence of bands such as OMD, The Cure and Depeche Mode really add to the eclectic feel. #Addicted contains the most addictive (sorry!) riff of the year with a beautiful construction and special hooks and melody. One of the most striking things about the band is the quality of Duda's voice, haunting and delicious. Last year’s excellent Lunatic Soul release, Walking On A Flashlight Beam really showcased the variation and subtlety in his vocal delivery and this is continued in spades on this album. Caterpillar And The Barbed Wire, maintains the complex and elegantly structured compositions, with a real Depeche Mode feel as well as some captivating guitar from Grudzinski.

A total change of mood, tempo and pace comes next during Saturate Me, with sweeping keyboards dominating the mix in a perfectly balanced Marillion-esque track. Afloat, like several tracks on this release, is short for a progressive rock release and demonstrates more variety and change. Duda’s vocals have an uncanny Vincent Cavanagh like quality and provide a calm, simple yet incredibly sensitive song. Having commented on the shortness of Afloat, we then hit the heavyweight in the tail of the release with some lengthier compositions. Starting with the six and a half minute Discard Your Fear, similarities with Swedish doom rockers Katatonia are unmistakeable. Towards The Blue Horizon clocks in at over eight minutes but you are so absorbed by the beauty of it. Gossamer light in parts, delicate and fragile throughout and breath taking in construction and delivery, this track makes the hairs stand on the back of your neck!

Penultimate track Time Travellers is an acoustic number, showcasing the many varied influences that have enabled Riverside to create their own unique sound. A beautifully crafted track, this is one that will bring a lump to the throat when played live; so sentimental and emotional. Album closer Found (The Unexpected Flaw Of Searching) provides a fitting finale to an incredible album. With so many influences throughout it is sometimes easy to forget that this band have been working their way through the music world for a number of years. Perfect is not a word I use very often, but Love, Fear And The Time Machine really is that. It is sophisticated and totally balanced; not beer and burger but a glass of wine and time to relax. It is nestling high in the already heaving top ten of 2015. 10/10

Amorphis: Under The Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)

In the metal world it is almost impossible to keep up to date with the constant stream of new releases, vibrant and exciting bands and live performances. In recent years this has been even more of a problem due to the plethora of high quality music being produced. At festivals it is often the same where you have clashes aplenty. Do you watch band A or band B? Decisions, decisions. One of the bands who have really slipped under my radar over the last two decades is Amorphis from Finland. Initially a death metal band that emerged amongst the flood of other acts through the 1990s, their sound has evolved into a more progressive folk tinged heavy metal. I missed their performance at BOA in 2013 as they clashed with Evil Scarecrow, but by all accounts they were excellent and in their 12th offering, Under The Red Cloud, they have provided all the reasons needed to now finally become fully immersed in their back catalogue.

Under The Red Cloud is powerful, anthemic, thrashy and symphonic; a real quality release and one that demonstrates the quality of the band. It is consistently strong throughout with the vocal delivery of Tomi Joutsen outstanding. He has a combination of styles, Maurizio Iacono (Kataklysm), Johan Hegg (Amon Amarth) Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) and even Nergal (Behemoth) all come to mind as he delivers both death growl and clean vocals with equal aplomb. The fusion of folk, power metal, death and even elements of the frantic drive of Blind Guardian all mix to provide a real mix of innovative and interesting music. The guitar work of Esa Holopainen is excellent whilst the supporting rhythm work of Tomi Koivusaari, bassist Niclas Etelavouri and drummer Jan Rechberger provide a solid foundation. Subtle keyboards underpin many of the tracks, with Santeri Kallio demonstrating his skills. Tracks such as Bad Blood, Dark Path and the Egyptian themed Death Of A King are real quality. 

Add in the excellent production of Jens Borgen, who has a CV longer than your arm (bands include Katatonia, Bloodbath, Opeth, Soilwork, Amon Amarth, Symphony X and Paradise Lost) and a number of guest musicians who add strings, percussion (ex-Opeth man Martin Lopez) and backing vocals, as well the orchestrations of the Osterang Symphonic Orchestra and this all adds up to one of the real quality releases of 2015. In another year of real excellent quality, Under the Red Cloud stands comfortably in the upper echelons. 9/10

Ahab: The Boats Of The Glen Carrig (Napalm)

At last year’s excellent Damnation Festival in Leeds, I was fortunate to catch around half of the set of German Doom merchants Ahab (named after the character in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick) before getting myself into position for the ball-breaking set by Bolt Thrower. I subsequently forgot much about what I had seen, mainly due to the Bolt Thrower set eclipsing all before them. However, with the release of album number four, The Boats of the Glen Carrig, a concept album based on William Hope Hodgson's eponymous novel, Ahab now has my full attention.

It is fair to say that Funeral Doom Metal is not everyone’s favourite brew; indeed I know as many who hate it as love it and basing an album on a novel by an author who died in 1918 may not convert many more to the fan club. The Boats Of The Glen Carrig is over an hour long and has a mere six songs; therefore you know some of those are going to be rather lengthy. However, those six tracks contain an incredible contrast. Just as the combination of cheese, beetroot and marmite shouldn't work to make the ultimate sandwich, so this combination of light and shade works when it clearly shouldn't. This album contains riffs so heavy that they crush you to the floor one minute; a mix of death metal growls followed by crystal clear vocals and then some of the most beautiful, intricate passages ever written. It is absolutely brilliant.

The combination of Daniel Droste and Christian Hector’s delightfully delicate and gentle guitar work merged with the powerful mind blowing riffage make this release sound effortless and unique. Stephen Wandernoth’s bass and Cornelius Atlhammer’s drumming complete the mix. Highlights include the album opener, The Isle, which effortlessly mixes huge crashing riffs with idyllic and peaceful passages and the terrifying The Weedmen, a 15 minute epic towards the end of the album. No uplifting songs about love and flowers here, just macabre and misery with riffs that decapitate if you stick your head out. Combine The Boats Of The Glen Carrig with a clear night, a huge spliff and you’ll be away. Just don’t study the fantastic cover at the same time …. 9/10

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